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Dan August Helps Kick-Start NFL Careers

At 30, Dan August is a junior executive. He’s just 3 months into his job as head of strategic marketing and planning for the National Football League.

At 25, Michael Sam is an NFL “veteran.” The St. Louis Rams cut him at the end of training camp last summer. He then spent time on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad before being waived.

Sam would love another shot at the pros. So would guys like Felix Jones, Michael Bush, Darron Thomas, Keith Price and Mike Kafka.

Tomorrow, they get their chance. And they’ll have August — a 2003 Staples graduate and Dartmouth economics major — to thank.

Dan August with New York Giants' defensive tackle Rocky Bernard at the XLVI Super Bowl.

Dan August with New York Giants’ defensive tackle Rocky Bernard at the XLVI Super Bowl.

August — who starred in tennis, not football, at Staples — helped develop the 1st-ever “Veteran Combine.” Set at the Arizona Cardinals’ training site in Tempe, it brings together 100 free agents and scouts from all 32 NFL teams.

August came up with the idea. He refined it with 2 other young NFL staffers. Commissioner Roger Goodell approved it. Then came buy-in from players, agents and team officials.

August — who was a Morgan Stanley investment banker before joining the NFL in 2008 — told Bloomberg Business that the Veteran Combine not only helps former players. It’s also efficient for teams — just like the Scouting Combine for college athletes.

August hopes it’s good for fans too. The NFL Network broadcasts a 1-hour special tomorrow (Sunday, March 22, 8 p.m.) to test interest.

(To read more on August and the Veteran Combine from Bloomberg Business, click here.)

For 20 Years, Project Return Has Gone To the Birds

Every local non-profit chases the same dollars. Each organization tries to come up with a unique fundraiser. But even in uber-clever Westport, it’s not easy.

Twenty years ago, Project Return created one that’s for the birds. It’s still flying high.

A beautiful birdhouse, designed and built by Miggs Burroughs.

A beautiful birdhouse, designed and built by Miggs Burroughs.

The idea is simple: a Birdhouse Auction. Artists build and donate special birdhouses. They’re displayed at a gala, then sold to the highest bidder. Winners get spectacular, one-of-a-kind birdhouses.

Project Return — the North Compo Road home for teenage girls and young women in crisis — wins too. Some of the birdhouses fetch over $10,000.

Miggs Burroughs has built birdhouses every year since the 1st auction, 20 years ago.

His 1st one was done on a lark (ho ho). He didn’t know much about Project Return, but liked the idea. That year, he constructed a “typical” birdhouse. Inside, a woman sat sadly on a chair. Burroughs added clipped “wings” to the figure — a metaphor for girls’ lives before they move into Project Return.

Once he saw how much the organization helped — and realized how much fun it is to create a birdhouse — he was hooked.

“I’m not a decorative artist,” Burroughs claims. “Some people” — among the more than 100 artists each year — “do amazing things with shells and buttons.”

A lenticular birdhouse, by Miggs Burroughs.

A lenticular birdhouse, by Miggs Burroughs.

So Burroughs’ birdhouses now include his specialty: lenticular photos. This year, he’s incorporated a 2-foot-high wooden lantern — which he won, interestingly, in a raffle at last year’s pre-auction Birdhouse Stroll, when over 50 local businesses display birdhouses in their windows.

Each of the lantern’s 4 windows includes a girl’s face. As you shift your gaze, the faces morph into birds. You have to see it to get the full effect — just as you should see all the different birdhouses.

Hans Wilhelm has also been involved from the start. After designing many birdhouses, he now draws each year’s special invitation.

The birds on those drawings are made into styrofoam figures, and grace the Project Return garden.

“I love the birdhouse concept,” Wilhelm says. “It puts creativity to good use. Everyone has fun. And Project Return is a group of wonderful, dedicated people.”

Hans Wilhelm and his wife, with some of his whimsical creations. (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

Hans Wilhelm and his wife, with some of his whimsical creations. (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

This year’s Birdhouse Auction — set for Friday, March 27 (7 p.m., Rolling Hills Country Club, Wilton) — includes an astonishing variety of materials: birch bark, feathers, stained glass, ceramics, wood, metal, 3D printing. The items are traditional and contemporary, whimsical and contemplative, decorative and practical, designed for outdoor and indoor use.

The auction also includes paintings, vases, serving bowls, candlesticks, shadow boxes, lamps and more. There’s a buffet, martini bar, and music from DNR.

The free Birdhouse Stroll takes place Sunday, March 8 (2-4 p.m.) downtown, with a kickoff reception at Eileen Fisher. It ends at the Westport Historical Society, with refreshments by DavidsTea, Saugatuck Sweets and Sono Bakery, plus a raffle and prizes.

Added this year is another free event: a Birdhouse Retrospective. Set for the Westport Arts Center on Thursday, March 19 (6-8 p.m.), it’s a look back at 20 years of birdhouses and artwork.

Check out 1, 2 or all 3 events. Or go see some birdhouses on display in Max’s Art Supplies window. They’re there just as they’ve always been, even though Max’s closed last year. (Thanks, Shirley Mellor!)

Say a little birdie sent you.

(Tickets for the Birdhouse Gala on Friday, March 27 are $125 through March 8; $150 thereafter. To purchase tickets, or for more information. visit 

(Design by Hans Wilhelm)

(Design by Hans Wilhelm)





Jennifer Lawrence: She’s What Lynsey Addario Does

Jennifer Lawrence has beaten out Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman for the chance to be Lynsey Addario.

That’s because Steven Spielberg outbid George Clooney — and other big names — to snag the film rights to the Westport photojournalist’s memoirIt’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.

Media reports say that Warner Bros is finalizing a big-ticket deal. The bidding war broke out after the New York Times Magazine excerpted compelling sections of what quickly became a best-seller. Addario details her work in combat zones around the world, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Darfur and the Congo — and the pregnancy that followed.

According to the Daily Mail, Addario met personally with some of the bidders. They were amazed by her story.

Sometime in the future, movie-goers around the world will be too.

Separated at birth? Jennifer Lawrence and Lysney Addario.

Separated at birth? Jennifer Lawrence and Lynsey Addario.

$40 Million Falls From The Sky

What does a small private school do when its endowment doubles overnight?

That’s a story the Washington Post magazine examines this weekend. It’s not an idle question: Last October, the Foxcroft School — a century-old, elite all-girls academy in Virginia hunt country — received $40 million from the estate of Ruth Bedford.

Bedford had graduated more than 80 years earlier. She’d spent most of the rest of her life quietly, in Westport. Her gift stunned the 157 students, as well as administrators, teachers and well-heeled alumnae (“the daughters of corporate titans, foreign nobility and political dynasties,” the Post says — including duPonts, Mellons, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Carnegies).

They had reason to be amazed. Bedford — who was 99 when she died, in June — had just made what is believed to be the largest gift ever to an all-girls school, and one of the largest gifts to a secondary school from a woman. Major universities would drool over such a donation.

Ruth Bedford (back row, far left) with her Foxcroft basketball teammates. (Photo/Foxcroft School)

Ruth Bedford (back row, far left) with her Foxcroft basketball teammates. (Photo/Foxcroft School)

The Post story describes Bedford’s youth. She was “born to a Standard Oil family fortune expanded significantly by her grandfather, Edward T. Bedford, who in the early 1900s helped the company popularize the petroleum byproduct known as Vaseline.”

As an exuberant, involved Foxcroft girl, Bedford played basketball, performed in plays and rode on the equestrian team. Her senior yearbook entry from 1932 includes this poem: “A gallant rider in very truth, is our swinging, singing Ruth. Though many a rider he’s let slip, Cross Country knows her iron grip.”

When Bedford attended Foxcroft in the early 1930s, the Post says, the school “was out of an idyll.” It “retains its rural mystique, but its luster has faded.”

The main academic building’s walls are scuffed, its paint chipping. Science labs housed in the basement are dark and musty. Sidewalks are crumbling. The theater is in a stale time warp, its wood-paneled walls dull and waxen.

Foxcroft SchoolHead of school Cathy McGehee calls the gift “transformative.” She says it will ensure Foxcroft’s future.

The Post says that Bedford — who never married — left nothing to family members. It adds:

Before she died in June at 99, she served as a Red Cross aide in World War II, did backstage work on Broadway for Rodgers and Hammerstein, and skimmed the Long Island Sound while piloting her seaplane. But she lived in relative obscurity in her later years, mucking out horse stalls in jeans and driving a beat-up station wagon.

Though she maintained a deep love for Foxcroft, her donation came almost as a complete surprise. “There’s a saying that to whom much is given much is expected,” said former Foxcroft trustee Bill Weeks. “I really feel that it’s fitting of Ruth’s life.”

Foxcroft has not yet decided how to use the money. McGehee would like to enhance its STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) offerings, in a heavily liberal arts curriculum.

Years ago, Ruth Bedford hosted this event. She is shown with Lester Giegerich (left) and Dr. Malcolm Beinfield. (Photo courtesy of Westport Y)

Years ago, Ruth Bedford hosted this event. She is shown with Lester Giegerich (left) and Dr. Malcolm Beinfield. (Photo courtesy of Westport Y)

She won’t spend too much on buildings. “It would be gone just like that,” she told the Post.

“I want to make sure the girls feel no barrier to what they can accomplish,” she added.

$40 million — from a woman who accomplished quite a lot herself, in a very low-key way — will go a long way to help.

(To read the full Washington Post magazine story, click here. Hat tip: Charles Cole)

Gerardo Lambert Has Quite A Heart

Gerardo Lambert was in great shape — and perfect health. A popular, certified trainer at high-end New York clubs, his sculpted physique and confident air turned heads wherever he went.

Gerardo Lambert at work.

Gerardo Lambert at work.

In 2005 though, he felt short of breath and light-headed during training. The diagnosis: cardiomyopathy. The disease — preventing Gerardo’s heart from pumping efficiently — was of unknown origin. But it can lead to heart failure.

Medications failed. Gerardo became depressed. He felt like giving up.

His wife, meanwhile, was pregnant with a boy. Friends, relatives and clients rallied to help Gerardo and his family. Still, he could not work.

Gerardo underwent 3 operations for pacemakers. He had a stroke, and more than 20 heart attacks. He passed out from lack of oxygen every couple of weeks. He was scared to be alone.

Gerardo tried to stay in shape. He walked a few miles a day, or did intervals of functional training. He stopped often to catch his breath. But even moderate exercise increased his stamina. For 5 years, it was all he looked forward to.

In 2009, his frail heart could not support his organ functions. Gerardo was placed in an induced coma — for 3 months. He unknowingly faced countless life-or-death situations: ventricular attacks, kidney failure, open-heart surgeries.

unosDuring that ordeal, he was placed on the heart transplant list.

Miraculously, one was found. The heart of a 20-year-old Minnesota man, killed in a motorcycle accident, was implanted into Gerardo’s chest.

But enormous obstacles remained. Gerardo spent another month in the hospital re-learning how to walk, speak and eat.

The former trainer had lost over 80 pounds of muscle mass — nearly half his weight. Gerardo had to rebuild even the most common muscle groups just to walk, climb stairs, even sit in a chair.

But he worked harder than ever. Six months after receiving a new heart, Gerardo was back in the gym. Healthier than ever, he worked with clients. He inspired them with his new body, new heart, and inspirational message of the importance of taking care of yourself, and your life.

Gerardo Lambert today.

Gerardo Lambert today.

Today, you can find Gerardo at the Westport YMCA. He’s one of the most popular group fitness instructors and personal trainers. For 3 years, he’s led the Y’s vigorous Body Shock classes.

Oh, yeah: He’s also training for his 1st amateur bodybuilding competition.

The heart of another young man beats now inside Gerardo’s chest. Metaphorically too, Gerardo carries his donor in his heart.

“I can’t let him down,” Gerardo says. “This is a 2nd chance at life — for both of us.”

The Y has embraced a Healthy Lifestyles Initiatives. There are programs for people of all ages and physical abilities, cancer survivors — and cardiac rehab patients too.

Healthy hearts are especially important in February. This is American Heart Month.

And no one is happier to celebrate it than Gerardo Lambert.

Despite what the video below says, you CAN watch it. Just click  “Watch on Vimeo”!

(Hat tip: Scott Smith)


“Neighbors And Newcomers” Offers Nice Niche

“Exile on Main Street” — last week’s cleverly titled New York Observer story on city dwellers who move to the suburbs, then quickly flee back because they have to take care of their house/can’t get 24-7 takeout/realize they must take a train to work — led with the sad tale of Lynn Shanahan.

The CEO of an apparel firm had imagined “long morning walks, the serene return in the evenings.” Moving back to New York couldn’t come fast enough.

“The noise at night was hard at first, but the adjustment happened really fast,” she reported. “It’s such a joy to be home from work in 15 minutes. And I can’t believe I can just call a friend to meet for a drink.”

She should have called Tina Crosby, before or after she moved here.

neighbors and newcomers logoIn 1998, Tina and her husband came  to Westport for the usual reasons: the schools, beauty, beach, proximity to the city.

Tina knew just one person: her realtor.

But a new neighbor — a woman who’d moved often, and could meet people quickly — told her about Neighbors and Newcomers of Westport. The club introduced Tina to dozens of people. She made lifelong friends.

Nearly 2 decades later, she’s co-president of the organization. Clearly, it retains a hold long after “new residents” become “long-timers.”

Members enjoy clam bakes, coffees, holiday parties, kayaking, barbecues, happy hours, wine tastings and TGIF get-togethers.

Neighbors and Newcomers enjoy hikes...

Neighbors and Newcomers enjoy hikes…

They play canasta. They go hiking and to movies. There is a book club, culinary group and luncheon club. There are trips to museums, baby and toddler play groups, and girls’ nights out. The group is always looking for new ideas, and very responsive to members’ needs.

Though many members are indeed newcomers — and most are women — Neighbors and Newcomers is open to anyone. Men are active, Tina says, and there are singles as well as couples.

“Whoever joins creates the energy we need,” she notes.

Tina relishes the friendships she’s made. She’s not alone.

“This group was my saving grace when I moved to Westport 9 years ago!” Kristin O. raves on the website.

...networking parties...

…networking parties…

A single woman from New York, she formed a social circle she relies on today. Now married, with 2 daughters, she continues to enjoy Neighbors and Newcomers events.

Tina C. appreciates the fact that — with her children now grown — she has more free time to join in group activities.

Diane Z. found the group 3 weeks after arriving in town. She never imagined she would “be so busy, and meet so many great women at this stage of my life.”

Barrie Sesmer describes moving to Westport 4 years ago. A “Welcome Back” coffee changed her life here.

...and wine and fun at the ever-popular Painting With a Twist.

…and wine and fun at the ever-popular Painting With a Twist.

“The ladies were so warm and welcoming,” she says. “They had all been in the same boat, and made me feel right at home.”

Barrie began organizing events, led the newsletter and became vice president. Today, she serves with Tina as co-president.

Neighbors and Newcomers is one of those organizations that flies under the radar, but impacts lives.

Too bad Lynn Shanahan never found it. She too would have been able to “call a friend to meet for a drink” — just like back in New York.

(For more information, click on Neighbors and Newcomers of Westport.)

What Juno About This Blizzard?

It’s 11 p.m. I’m going to bed.

I have no idea what will happen overnight.

But let’s crowdsource this potential life-altering, earth-orbit-altering storm*. When you read this — assuming you can, thanks to some sort of power source — please rate it:


* I will not refer to it by its fake, “name.” I used it in the headline only because I couldn’t help myself.


Jim Marpe: “Safety Is The Utmost Priority”

First Selectman Jim Marpe issued this statement, before the expected storm:

A blizzard warning is in effect throughout Connecticut, and is anticipated to heavily impact the area tonight through Tuesday.

Safety is the utmost priority. If there is a power outage, repairs will be made when it is safe to do so. At the height of the storm, due to high winds and potential for impassable roads, CL&P will not send linemen to repair downed wires until it is safe to do so.

Several factors make this storm dangerous:

  • Expected snow accumulations of 18-24 inches will make driving extremely dangerous, including possible whiteout conditions, tonight and into early Wednesday morning. Governor Malloy has announced that a travel ban for all roads is in effect beginning at 9 p.m. tonight.
  • Strong winds may result in downed electrical lines and loss of power.
  • Frigid temperatures may create additional hardships for some of our citizens, particularly the elderly.
  • There may be some shoreline flooding.

Proactive measures have been taken to prepare for the storm:

  • Westport sealWe have activated the town’s Emergency Operations Center.
  • Snow plows and supplies are ready. Key personnel will remain at a Public Works facility to ensure our streets become passable for emergency vehicles and residents in the shortest period possible.
  • CL&P is in continual contact with the town’s emergency management staff, and will have additional resources available to repair electrical problems.
  • Westport’s Emergency Operations Center is monitoring the situation and will provide emergency updates as necessary via CodeRED. Citizens with questions or concerns may contact the Emergency Operations Center (203-341-5000).
  • All schools and Town Hall will be closed on Tuesday.

Information and updates will be provided via the town’s website (, Facebook page ( and Twitter ( as well as Staples Radio WWPT (90.3 FM).

The Westport/Weston Health District has additional information on its website:

Contact CL&P at 1-800-286-2000 to report an outage or speak to a customer service representative.

It is recommended that residents take the following precautions:

  • Do not drive.
  • Do not park vehicles on any town road. Vehicles parked on town roads impede snow removal and prevent emergency vehicle access.  If a parked vehicle is impeding plowing operations or a public safety response, it will be towed.
  • In anticipation of an outage, residents may wish to increase the thermostat temperature in their homes a few degrees to build up residual heat.
  • Check on neighbors who may require additional assistance.
  • Subscribe to Westport’s CodeRED system, available through the town website (under Public Safety) to be notified of emergency situations.

woodstoveThe current expectation is that this will be a shelter-in-place event. The safest place to spend this evening and tomorrow is warm at home.

However, if you are using your fireplace or woodstove, please use utmost caution and let the ashes remain in the fireplace for several days until there are no remaining hot embers.

If you use portable space heaters in your home, be extremely careful and remember that space heaters require SPACE—nothing that can burn should be within three feet of any part of the heater.

A Rich Discussion

Friday’s New York Times ran a fascinating piece on the perils of money for young people. That’s an important topic of discussion in Westport.

But there was an even more specific connection here.

The hook for the story was the shooting murder of a hedge fund manager by his 30-year-old son. Apparently, the 2 had argued over the 30-year-0ld son’s “allowance.”

Writer Ron Lieber posed a few questions that his friends and peers were having:

How does it come to pass that a 30-year-old Princeton graduate still gets pocket money from his parents? What, if anything, went wrong in the way his parents raised him? And is there something about the environment that his mother and hedge-fund-running father raised him in that may have itself been damaging?

Affluent kids have many material things ...

Affluent kids have many material things …

Lieber answered himself:

We still don’t know very much about this one stranger and his mental health. Nor are we likely to ever get a full picture of his family, its values or the relationship between the father and the son. But in the last 15 years or so, academics have spent an increasing amount of time studying the affluent and what can ail them, and there is an emerging consensus that their children often have higher rates of depression and anxiety and elevated levels of substance abuse and certain delinquent behaviors.

Adding that “the well-off are human, too, and if some of their children are hurting, it’s indecent to mock or ignore them,” Lieber noted that academics have added studies of children of wealth, to their previous research into poverty.

He cites psychologist Suniya Luthar. She’s now a professor at Arizona State University, but while at Columbia University she embarked on a longitudinal study that included Westport students.

... and high expectations of "the good life" ...

… and high expectations of “the good life” …

Starting in 1999, Lieber says, she found that teenagers in higher-income families had higher rates of substance abuse of all kinds than those in lower-income ones; that the more affluent suburban kids stole from their parents more often than poorer city youth, and that those with more money were “more likely to experience clinically significant levels of depression, anxiety and physical ailments.” Many of those trends emerged in 7th grade.

According to Lieber, Luthar said that it’s easy for parents to pressure children, resulting in some of the problems cited above:

Many such parents enjoy their fulfilling, prestigious jobs and have a wide network of friends from their top-tier educational institutions. Most of them desperately want the same things for their own children, and why wouldn’t they? “This is the trap we can fall into,” she said.

... but parental pressures can be high.

… but parental pressures can be high.

Luthar notes that one of the most powerful risk factors for youngsters is “being highly criticized by your parents.”

She adds: “The most important thing is to keep ourselves and our children from getting swept up in the movement towards more being better, and the idea that ‘I can and therefore I must.’”

Readers’ reactions to the Times piece run the gamut, from finger-pointing at rich parents to cautions against minimizing real concerns about mental health.

It’s a fascinating story, with an intriguing discussion thread. To add your own thoughts, “06880”-style, click “Comments.”

Remembering Jack Adams

Jack Adams — the trumpeter who influenced thousands of Westport students and colleagues as a teacher, mentor and Southern-born mensch — died Wednesday night.

His music may be stilled. His distinctive drawl is gone. But his lessons and influence will live on for years.

Jack Adams

Jack Adams

“He was unbelievable — the best,” says Alice Lipson, who taught with him for 3 decades at Long Lots Junior High, and Staples High School.

In her 2nd year at Long Lots, Lipson was asked to direct “Bye Bye Birdie.” She was terrified. But with Adams directing the student pit, all was well.

“He had an extraordinary ability to bring out the best in kids,” Lipson adds. “He had a great way of communicating, and reaching everyone.”

Lipson loved hearing her colleague’s stories of his time as a young musician. In 1952 — newly arrived in New York from his native Kentucky — Adams met a similarly struggling Eydie Gorme. He knew greats like Miles Davis.

“He was a gift to everyone who met him. I will miss that sweet man,” she says.

Anthony Ryan — a 1987 Staples graduate — calls Adams “easily one of the top 3 teachers in my life. He inflamed my passion for music, rewarded my loyalty and hard work, and molded me into the man I am today.” The former junior high, high school and music camp student recalls Adams’ “guidance, discipline, humor and love,” and honors him not only for his lessons, but “my successful transition from boy to young man.”

Jack Adams teaches -- and plays with -- Staples freshman Ryan Price, in 1992.

Jack Adams teaches — and plays with — Staples freshman Ryan Price, in 1992.

Cindy Shuck took private lessons with Adams throughout middle and high school. “He was a big part of my growing up, and taught me discipline and responsibility through trumpet,” she says.

She still has her notebook, which he wrote in every week. She will always keep it “because it contains so many lessons, words of encouragement, lists that he lived by and overall music brilliance that he shared.”

A trio of Staples music department legends: band leader Jack Adams, choral director George Weigle and orchestra maestro John Hanulik.

A trio of Staples music department legends: band leader Jack Adams, choral director George Weigle and orchestra maestro John Hanulik.

Vern Sielert notes says of his band director and lesson teacher from 5th grade though high school:

I learned about the fundamentals of trumpet playing from him, but I learned so much more — about responsibility, professionalism, respect for the greats, discipline.

He took me to New York to see “42nd Street,” and introduced me to the trumpet section in the pit. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about concepts I learned from him, and share them with my students. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Mr. Adams.

Jon Owens began studying under Adams in 3rd grade, and continued through high school. Today he’s a professional musician. On Facebook, Owens wrote:

He taught me the fundamentals of trumpet playing that I still revert back to today. He always strived for excellenc,e and pushed me to become a better player. But more than that, he taught how to be a decent person. He had rock solid and unyielding standards of conduct and musicianship that were not waived for anyone. I pass on some of his sayings to my students: “It’s better to be an hour early than a minute late!”

As an adult, Owens cherished his visits with his former teacher. They shared stories of great musicians, played trumpets together, and listened to recordings.

Owens says Adams’ extensive record collection took up half his studio. He also collected rare instruments.

Jack Adams with Jonathan Owens, after the 1986 Memorial Day parade.

Jack Adams with Jonathan Owens, after the 1986 Memorial Day parade.

Owens sums up:

He was a legendary performer and bandleader as well as teacher. He made a positive impact on many, many lives, and that is something we should all strive for. He poured his heart and soul into everything he did, and our community was better off because of him. He was my mentor, and I would not be who I am today without Jack Adams. I let a few notes really hang out there tonight in his honor. I know he is looking down and smiling!